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11 Great Geeky Math Tattoos

1. Polly Want A Tattoo?

It shouldn’t be all too surprising that when it comes to math tattoos, Pi designs are the most common. The majority of these designs are either blocks of numbers or the basic Pi symbol. But at least one person came up with a more creative tattoo: They used the symbol as a perch for a parrot named Pie. I can’t tell you who owns Pie and has this great tattoo, but I can tell you it was done by artist Shannon Archuleta.

2. I Heart Pi

When it comes to tattoos of Pi number strings, Scruffy’s design is one of the best: She used the numbers to create the shape of a heart. As one Geeky Tattoos commenter pointed out, it works on a second level because no one knows how long Pi goes on, just as no one knows the depths of true love.

This lovely tattoo was done by Steve at Art Freek Tattoo.

3. Sea Spiral

Perhaps second behind Pi in math tattoos is the Golden Spiral. While there are plenty out there, Thom’s version, which shows the perfect ratios of a nautilus shell, is by far one of the most visually striking—and it certainly does a good job at reflecting his stance that mathematics is the language of nature.

4. The Number Game

While the digits making up the Golden Ratio tend to not look as aesthetically appealing as the image of a Golden Spiral, Milad’s tattoo is still fascinating—especially because he ensured that the rectangle formed by the digits features sides in the proportion of the Golden Ratio. Milad got the design because the Golden Ratio is the precise reason he became fascinated by math at a young age, and because the design is the closest mathematical explanation of beauty.

5. A Strong Foundation

Mark’s tattoo might not be the most stunning out there, but it’s still something close to his heart: He loves math so much that he chose to get the Zermelo-Fraenkel with Choice axioms of Set Theory, the nine axioms that make up the foundation of mathematics.

That’s not Mark’s only math tattoo. On his other arm, he has the Y Combinator formula.

6. Have A Heart

After learning her mother was diagnosed with breast cancer on Valentine’s Day, Josephine got a tattoo of one of the formulas for a heart curve, a fitting symbol of support and a great tribute to any loving mother.

7. The Gods of Math

Alison is a high school physics teacher who also studies world religion and draws spiritual inspiration from the natural laws of the universe. To reflect this approach to life, she decided to get the Mandelbrot set, the equation for hydrostatic equilibrium, the equation describing entropy, and the Delta symbol on her back to symbolize the powers of creation, preservation, destruction, and change in the world.

8. Schrodinger’s Tattoo

In the future, Brittany hopes to be what she calls a “wacky, flannel-sportin’ physicist." Her first step toward achieving that goal was getting Schrodinger’s equation for the wave function of a particle tattooed on her back, because it represents the fundamental source of “quantum weirdness.” She says she likes the design because it reminds her that “no matter what happens in my life, there is an infinitely Glorious Plan swirling all about us.”

9. HumbleBragg

Josephine Schuppang studied Crystallography at the Technical University in Berlin. After writing her thesis on the transmission electron microscopy of nitride semiconductors, she wanted to get a tattoo to mark the occasion, but because all the formulas she used were too long and complex, she decided to stick with the fundamental formula of Bragg’s Law.

10. Musical Math

Here’s one most of us probably remember from algebra. That’s right, it’s the legendary Quadratic Formula. Sharon, an undergraduate math student at Arcadia University, got the design to show her love for mathematical formulas and equations. This particular formula is one of her favorites because she learned to sing it to the tune of “Pop! Goes the weasel"—which means this is probably the most musical of all math tattoos as well.

11. Spaced Out

Juan Barredo spotted this lovely set of Maxwell’s Equations on the back of a fellow attendee at the Space Frontier Foundation’s NewSpace Conference in Washington D.C. The equations, which relate to space-time formulations, certainly fit in at a place like that.

Special thanks to Discover magazine’s Science Tattoo Emporium, which is loaded with great math and science tattoos (as the name implies). I know plenty of you Flossers have tattoos and when we posted the librarian and book tattoos articles, many of you posted your own photos of tattoos that fit in those categories. So do any of you math-lovers have formulas or mathematical symbol tattoos? If so, please share them in the comments!

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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva
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technology
Man Buys Two Metric Tons of LEGO Bricks; Sorts Them Via Machine Learning
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iStock // Ekaterina Minaeva

Jacques Mattheij made a small, but awesome, mistake. He went on eBay one evening and bid on a bunch of bulk LEGO brick auctions, then went to sleep. Upon waking, he discovered that he was the high bidder on many, and was now the proud owner of two tons of LEGO bricks. (This is about 4400 pounds.) He wrote, "[L]esson 1: if you win almost all bids you are bidding too high."

Mattheij had noticed that bulk, unsorted bricks sell for something like €10/kilogram, whereas sets are roughly €40/kg and rare parts go for up to €100/kg. Much of the value of the bricks is in their sorting. If he could reduce the entropy of these bins of unsorted bricks, he could make a tidy profit. While many people do this work by hand, the problem is enormous—just the kind of challenge for a computer. Mattheij writes:

There are 38000+ shapes and there are 100+ possible shades of color (you can roughly tell how old someone is by asking them what lego colors they remember from their youth).

In the following months, Mattheij built a proof-of-concept sorting system using, of course, LEGO. He broke the problem down into a series of sub-problems (including "feeding LEGO reliably from a hopper is surprisingly hard," one of those facts of nature that will stymie even the best system design). After tinkering with the prototype at length, he expanded the system to a surprisingly complex system of conveyer belts (powered by a home treadmill), various pieces of cabinetry, and "copious quantities of crazy glue."

Here's a video showing the current system running at low speed:

The key part of the system was running the bricks past a camera paired with a computer running a neural net-based image classifier. That allows the computer (when sufficiently trained on brick images) to recognize bricks and thus categorize them by color, shape, or other parameters. Remember that as bricks pass by, they can be in any orientation, can be dirty, can even be stuck to other pieces. So having a flexible software system is key to recognizing—in a fraction of a second—what a given brick is, in order to sort it out. When a match is found, a jet of compressed air pops the piece off the conveyer belt and into a waiting bin.

After much experimentation, Mattheij rewrote the software (several times in fact) to accomplish a variety of basic tasks. At its core, the system takes images from a webcam and feeds them to a neural network to do the classification. Of course, the neural net needs to be "trained" by showing it lots of images, and telling it what those images represent. Mattheij's breakthrough was allowing the machine to effectively train itself, with guidance: Running pieces through allows the system to take its own photos, make a guess, and build on that guess. As long as Mattheij corrects the incorrect guesses, he ends up with a decent (and self-reinforcing) corpus of training data. As the machine continues running, it can rack up more training, allowing it to recognize a broad variety of pieces on the fly.

Here's another video, focusing on how the pieces move on conveyer belts (running at slow speed so puny humans can follow). You can also see the air jets in action:

In an email interview, Mattheij told Mental Floss that the system currently sorts LEGO bricks into more than 50 categories. It can also be run in a color-sorting mode to bin the parts across 12 color groups. (Thus at present you'd likely do a two-pass sort on the bricks: once for shape, then a separate pass for color.) He continues to refine the system, with a focus on making its recognition abilities faster. At some point down the line, he plans to make the software portion open source. You're on your own as far as building conveyer belts, bins, and so forth.

Check out Mattheij's writeup in two parts for more information. It starts with an overview of the story, followed up with a deep dive on the software. He's also tweeting about the project (among other things). And if you look around a bit, you'll find bulk LEGO brick auctions online—it's definitely a thing!

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© Nintendo
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fun
Nintendo Will Release an $80 Mini SNES in September
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© Nintendo

Retro gamers rejoice: Nintendo just announced that it will be launching a revamped version of its beloved Super Nintendo Classic console, which will allow kids and grown-ups alike to play classic 16-bit games in high-definition.

The new SNES Classic Edition, a miniature version of the original console, comes with an HDMI cable to make it compatible with modern televisions. It also comes pre-loaded with a roster of 21 games, including Super Mario Kart, The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past, Donkey Kong Country, and Star Fox 2, an unreleased sequel to the 1993 original.

“While many people from around the world consider the Super NES to be one of the greatest video game systems ever made, many of our younger fans never had a chance to play it,” Doug Bowser, Nintendo's senior vice president of sales and marketing, said in a statement. “With the Super NES Classic Edition, new fans will be introduced to some of the best Nintendo games of all time, while longtime fans can relive some of their favorite retro classics with family and friends.”

The SNES Classic Edition will go on sale on September 29 and retail for $79.99. Nintendo reportedly only plans to manufacture the console “until the end of calendar year 2017,” which means that the competition to get your hands on one will likely be stiff, as anyone who tried to purchase an NES Classic last year will well remember.

In November 2016, Nintendo released a miniature version of its original NES system, which sold out pretty much instantly. After selling 2.3 million units, Nintendo discontinued the NES Classic in April. In a statement to Polygon, the company has pledged to “produce significantly more units of Super NES Classic Edition than we did of NES Classic Edition.”

Nintendo has not yet released information about where gamers will be able to buy the new console, but you may want to start planning to get in line soon.

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